Friday, January 30, 2015

Shabbat Dinner- Easy Peasy

Tonight I'm going to recommend the easiest Shabbat dinner you might ever make.  So incredibly simple, you won't believe how good it tastes.

The Menu:
Roast Chicken
Roasted Vegetables
Pears & Cranberries for dessert

Let's start with the Roast Chicken.  Roasting a whole chicken can seem daunting, and while I've been able to cook one since college, it can be quite a process. That was until I got wind of the Buzzfeed Roast chicken contest.

If you haven't' checked this out, you are missing out on some of the best roast chicken knowledge that the Internets have to offer.  They compare the best of the best recipes, including Glamour chicken's engagement chicken, Julia Child's chicken and the Pioneer woman.  They follow the recipe exactly, and then compare the results.  And not only is the recipe that won the easiest, its obviously the best because it won.

So, let's break down Thomas Keller's roast chicken recipe.  Twine, a roasting rack, salt and pepper. 

Step 1: Dry the chicken inside and out

Step 2: Cover it with salt and pepper inside and out

Step 3: Truss your chicken.  It's easier than it sounds.  Click the link above to follow the photos- so easy.

Step 4: Put it on the rack and in the oven at 400degrees.

That's his recipe.  It's really that simple.  I hope you've been following along, but not that closely.  Because for our Shabbat dinner we're going to make a quick twist.  We're going to throw some potatoes, onions and brussel sprouts in the bottom of the roasting rack.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil and a bit of salt on top, then put the whole thing in the oven for about an hour.  You'll know it's done when the juices run clear and a thermometer reads 165.

On to dessert: Oven Pears in Simple Syrup.  The best part about this is that you prep it on the stove, then stick it into the oven when you start dinner.  You can't overcook it, you can't really screw it up.  Half it, double it, totally easy.  Also, totally parve, so it's easy with a dairy meal too.

1 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (I prefer fresh)
4 firm-ripe pears such as d'Anjou or Bose (about 2.5 lbs total)
1/2 rinsed lemon thinly sliced (ends discarded)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Step 1: Sort cranberries and discard stems and any bruised or decayed fruit. Rinse and drain berries. Peel pears: cut in half and core. In a 2- 2 1/2 quart baking dish, combine cranberries, pears and lemon slices.
I arrange the pears intermittent with the lemon slices and the cranberries, so it makes a pretty presentation when it comes out of the oven. It is also best to serve in the same dish that you bake it in. If you have a lot of people, you might have to double the recipe.
Step 2: In a 1-2 quart pan over medium high heat, stir sugar, vinegar, ginger,cinnamon,cloves and 1/2 cup water until mixture boils and sugar is dissolved. (You can make this syrup the day ahead if need be). Pour over fruit. Cover dish tightly with foil. 
I often bring this to someone's house.  Put the pears in a dish ready to go and bring the liquid in a different container. Pour on top and put in the oven when dinner starts.
Step 3: Bake in a 350 degrees regular or convection oven until pears are tender when pierced, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Make it look pretty by arranging the lemons and the pears intermittent, along with the cranberries dotting the top.  If you make it in a nice dish, then you just serve it straight to the table.

So, there's your easy peasy dinner...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jewish Learning Institute: The Art of Parenting

I've begun taking this class through the JCC Chabad of the Beach cities, the same place that EG goes to school.  While it would be impossible to share all the knowledge I'm gleaning from the class, I thought I would share a bit about what I'm learning.

If you are available, the class takes place either Wednesday or Sunday morning from 9:30-11am.  It's a great class so far, so I encourage you to join in.

This past week we talked a lot about how we make choices as parents.  About choosing what's best for the child, and not making a decision based upon what's best for us as parents.  This seems like a really easy and straightforward concept, but in reality, it's often very murky.

We took two classic examples in class: the tantrum in the supermarket and the mismatched outfit being worn out of the house.  In both of these circumstances there are multitudes of different things playing out in our minds. 

There is so much pressure being a parent and it's something that can effect every decision we make.  When our kids make a scene in the grocery store we most likely aren't just thinking about what's best for my child.  We're likely thinking "what are these people thinking about me a parent.  This is so embarassing, how can I make her stop!"  We are overwhelmed with what others think about us.  Maybe it's not their opinions that count, but the reality of the fact that we need to pay for the groceries, not buy something we didn't want, ensure our kids aren't stealing anything, and that if we don't finish shopping, we won't have another chance to buy milk all week.

So we give in.  We abate the tantrum with a candy bar, or the other things out kids are asking us for.  To make it all stop. 

Sometimes we do need to give in.  Sometimes it's important to show our children that we listen to them, and buying the graham crackers they want can teach them that they are valued to.  Sometimes that candy bar is actually deserved.  But did we make that choice based upon what is best for them, or what was best for us.

Jewish teaching on parenting is complex at best, but at it's core there are a few guiding principles.  When we were discussing these practices and values in class I couldn't help but think about a few other classic Jewish conceptions: Derech Eretz and Shalom Bayit.  

Taken at it's literal interpretation, Derech Eretz means 'the way of the land.'  We can interpret this to mean that living a Torah life, a G-dly life, also means behaving with civility, earning a livelihood, and having common sense.  When we look at this concept, we can see that we have an obligation to teach our children to engage with the outside world in an appropriate manner.  Therefore tantrums in the grocery store aren't permitted.  Thinking of our world from this perspective can help remind us of our obligation to teach our children the proper way to engage with the world.  Think the Jewish version of Emily Post.

Another is Shalom Bayit, or peace in the home.  Taking this concept into yourself and making it a part of our lives might help us to choose decisions that make the most sense for our home.  When we go through life there are lots of outside influences.  Many of them are critically important to us, such as extended family, work obligations, even the weather.  But when you look at these from the perspective of Shalom Bayit it can help put into perspective our obligations to those of our own home. Maybe today we don't visit Grandp
a because it's not good for the peace of our house.

I hope that these ideas can help you guide your choices in the best interest of our children.  Child-rearing is a complicated and complex idea.  The stress we can put on ourselves can be unbearable.  So, while we keep these things in mind, above all else, remember that G-d doesn't give us more than we are ready to handle.  These children are yours- regardless of how they came into your life.  You are divinely created to help them, raise them, and guide them in becoming the adults they are meant to be.

Here's to you, and making choices. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Organizing Photos for Keeps

I've posted about Project Life before, but I wanted to write about it again, to help ensure that your children don't end up with what I have in my garage...a large pile of pictures without context or thought.

Yup- those are adorable pictures of me as a youngin... Unfortunately, they have no rhyme or reason to them.  Collected for years in one drawer, or box- one place or another.

Do you have to use Project Life to display or organize your, but I do think it's easy and totally worth it.  But lets take a step back.  Let's look at how you get those photos off of your phones, off of your computers and make them accessible to anyone.

The first step to printing and organizing photos- to having your children's life made accessible to them and others is to download monthly and organize digitally.  My recommendation is to start here.

Step 1: Make a folder on your computer- label it this year 2015

Step 2: Inside that folder make a 01-2015 folder.

Step 3: Download all the photos into that folder the first week of February.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2-3 on March 1st, and do on through the year.

It's that simple.  Knowing when a photo was taken will dramatically improve your ability to know what was going on, and to have recall about the event.  I know it seems strange, but this is especially true about those little moments.  When did the baby first sit-up?  Crawl?  Walk?  Knowing what month these events happened in can really make the difference between being able to write about your child or not.

Want to take it a step farther?  Inside of the monthly folders include additional folders with the events labeled.  Like "Family Picnic to Alondra Park- Date" or "Wedding of Greg and Rachel- May 4th".  That way you have the basics, and the photos can provide the details.

What we do in our family is put all our photos onto an external hard drive.  This makes it easy to take with us to friends or family- to give them their photos, as well as to grab in case of a fire. As much as I love my Project Life albums (and I do!) they are a bit heavy.  By grabbing the hard drive I ensure that we get all the photos and everything out of the house.

Still think its too much? 

I think one of the best things we can give to our children is their own memories.  My sister's memories are strong, but mine are not.  This way I can help make sure that both EG and Ocho have not only their memories, but the images that go along with them.  That they can look through them and see the people we've lost, and remember.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A culture of Truth

I've reached a point in my life where I am sick of the limitations of social etiquette.  I've become exhausted of people 'saving face' by not telling the truth.

Has this happened to you?  It feels like it happens to me almost daily.  Let's see, this week alone I didn't tell at least 5 people the truth about what I thought or felt about the situation. And we're not talking about distant friends, or inconsequential acquaintances.  We're talking about immediate family, close relatives, what are supposed to be 'best friends.'

We went and saw the last Hobbit movie this week, and there's a moment in the movie when Bilbo Baggins tells Thorin Oakenshield that he's being an idiot.  That he's taken the most important thing to Thorin and given it away to someone else.  Because Thorin was going back on his word. 

It seems like everyone's 'word' is becoming less and less valuable.  That we've reached a point in the world where the truth, and honor and commitment aren't very valuable.

When you go to a therapist to seek the truth because those closest to you no longer tell it to you straight.  When they sit by and watch you make horrible mistakes, disregard others emotions and feelings, and just plain do dumb things.  Rather than stand-up, say what's uncomfortable and lay it all out on the table.

I wish I could just spill the beans right here.  Tell all those people the truths' I didn't say. 

Do you tell the truth, or do you skate by on politeness? 

Maybe, if we committed ourselves to being open and honest it would mean a lot more when we say we care.  When we share our 'I Love You's.'  When we realize how much it means to us to be moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tu'Bshvat- A fruity celebration

It's time to celebrate Tu B'shvat.  What is Tu B'shvat you ask?  The celebration of the trees.  A new year for the trees, if you will.  If it weren't complicated enough that Judaism is on a totally separate calendar than the rest of the world, we'll add some additional confusion by claiming to have four different new year's.  This is one of them.  While it's not the most significant (that being Rosh Hashana) it's still important. 

There are lots of laws in the Torah regarding what you should do with your harvest and your trees.  When the temple was still in existence, we had specific tithes that we needed to set aside, as well as sacrifices.  It's also a law not to take the fruit of a tree for the first three years it's planted, so this is the 'new year' for all the trees.  If you planted it three years ago, now is the year to eat.

As you can see from the beautiful Infographic below (thanks aish!) it's a fun holiday to celebrate.  When else do you get to concocte such an exciting menu full of fruits and veggies, and enjoy time out in the sun?

Speaking of menus, Chai and Home has a lovely menu planner printable. Perfect for you to remember which dish coordinates with which species.

I'll be throwing my first Tu B'shvat dinner this year.  Have you thrown one?  Any advice?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Torah Portion = Life: The Ten Plagues

This week's Torah Portion is Parasha Bo, the ten plagues and the people of Egypt.  I'm hesitant to say it, but this seems like the perfect portion for my life right now.

When we think about the Torah portion, many people are suprised to read the first sentence:

1. The Lord said to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst,

I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants.  G-d has made it so that Pharaoh is not able to bend his will. Why would G-d do that? Why would he, benevolent that he is, create a circumstance where he isn't getting the best from the people he's created.  Rather, he's creating a situation where he has to 'punish' them, as we usually think about the plagues.

'In order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst,'

Such a powerful thought.  In order that these signs may be there.  In order that he may see these signs.  When we read the story of Moses and the Pharaoh we come to understand that the Pharaoh would bend, then change his mind.  His advisors would bend, then change their minds.  Over and over again, they lose their resolve.

It's like that with children.  Over and over they test our wills, and often we bend.  Often it is easier to give-in, or move along then to take the time, see the signs and do the parenting.  Sometimes, especially with a two-year old and a baby, I think I miss the signs right in front of my face.  You probably know what I'm talking about.  The signs that the day is to much, that the situation is out of hand.  The subtle signs that are right in front of my face.  It's not until there's an explosion, a plague if you will, that I really understand what's happening.  It's not until my child is doing something so beyond our values, our ideals, that I realize that I've bent right over.

All to often in our life we miss out on the subtle signs of life.  Our partner needing more space or more comfort. Our children needing a bit more guidance or nurturing.  So it is with Pharaoh.  He needed something powerful, something so above the ordinary to really see the power of G-d.

There are plagues all around us, and sometimes we need a cosmic shift to make a change.  This portion reminds us that these plagues are not just moments, but calls to action.  A chance to change our actions, a chance to shift our thinking.

In our lives and the lives of those around us we need to take these signs, these plagues, and use them as a way to shape our futures.  To change what we can to affect the world.  To have our eyes opened to the path or rightness. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Transformative Experiences

I was driving in the car last night on the way home from Disneyland.  It was a great day with my cousin, who recently lost his wife.  We had a lot of fun, and his 9-year old daughter was amazing with EG.  But I digress... I was driving home and I heard this song on the radio:

I couldn't help but turn it up and start singing along.  Imagine my surprise when there are tears flowing down my eyes, and I'm thinking about my mom, my family, my marriage- the little girl asleep in the seat behind me. 

"Then it hit me like a lightning late one night
I was all out of hope and all out of fight

Couldn't fight back the tears so I fell on my knees
Saying, "God, if you're there come and rescue me."
Felt love pouring down from above"

The moment it ended though, I couldn't help but feel a tiny bit guilty. Now, please don't misunderstand me- especially if you are a devout Christian.  I don't mean that what you believe in isn't true, I only mean to say that I don't believe it the same way you do. 

It's strange that a song about- I don't know- baptism, conversion, christening?  would affect me so deeply when I fundamentally believe that there is more to conversion than just a single action and a thought.  I don't believe that saying you believe in something makes it so.  I appreciate that Judaism has a formal conversion process, and that it can be a bit daunting.  I felt guilty because here is a song about an aspect of G-d I don't believe in, yet here are the tears flowing down my eyes.

I can, however, say that I believe in the transformative power of different experiences.  I hope you know what I'm talking about. Those moments when you feel touched by G-d.  When something makes sense, or touches you so profoundly that everything inside of you is changed.  That's what touches me about this song....

Most recently it was seeing my Mother's dead body.  In Jewish funerals you don't look upon the dead, however, it's not only necessary according to law, but also traditional for the close family to see their dearly departed before burial.  For me that was the moment I really realized my mother wasn't here on earth anymore.  I've always believed we had a soul, but knowing my mom, and seeing her body without her spirit, her soul there- I finally realized that it wasn't her.  That she wasn't here anymore.  The immensity of realizing that there is something after death in such a literal way.  Of knowing in my soul that my mother wasn't here on earth, and at the same moment knowing that she was somewhere else- with G-d.

Before that it was a profoundly transformative experience to give birth to Ocho.  You would have thought that the transformative birth would have been EG's, since she literally transformed me from a woman to a mother, but her birth wasn't really like that.  Giving birth to Ocho was possibly the best moment of my life so far.  It was difficult, scary, harrowing. It was pain and screaming and doubt.  But I overcame.  We overcame together.  And when she came into this world her birth was like an amazing moment of serenity.  A transformative experience.  Meeting G-d in the birth of my daughter.

Before that I would have to say I've had one other transformative experience.  And this one is linked not only to the song, but also to a tenant of Judaism- the Mikvah.  For those of you who don't know a mikvah is a natural body of water that a woman immerses herself in after she has had her cycle.  She has to be clean for so many days, then she goes and she changes.  There's a lot more to it, but traditionally a woman would go before she gets married for the first time.  I did that before marrying Working Dad and I remember walking out of that water and feeling so peaceful.  So ready to be his wife.  So ready to take on the responsibility of a family of my own, of creating something new.  Of joining back together with my besheret.  So calm and confident. 

A woman is only obligated to do three mitzvot in the Torah.  Lots of people say this makes Judaism as an Orthodox Jew negative to women, but we can get into all of that later.  What our sages teach us is that when a woman fulfills one of the mitzvot (Challah, candles and the mikvah) she is ultimately closer to G-d than anyone else. That he is listening to her in an intense way.  I felt exactly like that in the mikvah.  As Carrie says, there must have been something in the water.  Because in those moments it felt like there was nothing between me and G-d.  Me and everything I could possibly be in this world.  Everything that's out there in front of me- my whole future in front of my eyes.  The whole world.

Have you had a transformative experience?  Do you feel like you've met G-d?
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